MDOT Report Blames Carpools for High Tolls in NoVA, Adds Detail to I-495 Toll Lane Proposal
A new report from the Maryland Department of Transportation blames carpooling for the high $47 tolls on I-66 in Northern Virginia.
The Presolicitation Information Report MDOT sent to the Board of Public Works on Dec 11 also provides new details on its $11 billion plan to widen I-495 and I-270 for privatized for-profit toll lanes, like the ones on I-66 in Northern Virginia. The Board of Public Works has authority over large public project expenditures.
Although traffic research consistently shows cars with one person worsen congestion, MDOT praises the I-66 toll lanes for letting lone drivers buy their way back onto the road during rush hour. One person vehicles had been banned to reduce congestion.
Then MDOT goes one step further and blames carpools for I-66's soaring rush tolls, which can top $47! To encourage carpooling, cars with two or more passengers can use the toll lanes for free during rush hour. MDOT, however, suggests that leads for-profit toll operators to raise tolls to compensate. (See P.8 of the report.)
MDOT’s opinion is out of sync with most research and the widely accepted strategy to manage congestion by creating incentives that encourage carpooling and using mass transit. All of which raises the question about what the Beltway Toll Lanes are supposed to do? Reduce congestion or help a company build exclusive lanes for lone drivers under the guise of helping the general public?
Here are a few more key takeaways from the Dec 11 report:
$11 Billion Price Tag. MDOT increased its top estimate for I-495/I-270 tollways to $11 billion, up from $9 billion for widening those roads and the B-W Parkway. (p.9)
MDOT plans to pick a preferred design by spring 2019. This leaves little time for public comment on the short list of design Alternatives Retained for Detailed Study MDOT is expected to release by early Feb. (p.5)
MD plans to help finance the toll lanes by issuing transportation (MDTA) bonds, (p.12), own the lanes, and pay the toll company when unspecified "compensation events" occur (p.17). Only toll revenues can be used to repay the bonds, the report says, but it’s not clear what happens if tolls fall short.
Toll collections could start as early as 2025, five years after 2020, when MDOT expects to sign an agreement with a toll lane company.
Toll lane developers want MD to pay them for submitting unsuccessful bids, according to an MDOT survey, with 54% asking for $1 million to $3 million.
MDOT says I-66 toll lanes work, paying for themselves despite Washington Post articles casting doubt on whether commutes are getting better for most people, and financial reports from toll operator Transurban that say the I-66 lanes aren't making money.
For a copy of the report, visit CABE's on-line resource page at www.cabe495.com/downloads.